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The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, created by Proposition 71 in 2004, promised life-saving cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases. The $3 billion state stem-cell agency also assured voters that royalties from these cures and therapies would generate more than $1 billion. As David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report notes, no royalties have appeared until this month, when a check of $190,345.87 arrived. As one researcher observed, that “does not even cover the annual salary of CIRM’s part-time vice chairman,” and Jensen fails to provide the back story.
In 2009, CIRM board member Duane Roth offered to serve as vice chairman for no salary. CIRM opted to make Roth co-vice-chairman along with former state senator Art Torres, a lawyer, not a medical scientist. CIRM promptly tripled Torres’s salary from $75,000 to $225,000. So CIRM served as a lucrative landing spot for washed-up politicians.
Jensen claims CIRM was “an idea in the mind of researchers,” but it was actually the project of real estate tycoon Robert Klein, who made himself chairman, took a salary, and kept the agency off-limits to oversight. In 2013, the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 91 percent of CIRM funding went to institutions with representatives on the CIRM board. So the agency was really about the redistribution of money.
Marcy Darnvosky of the Center for Genetics and Society told Jensen, “It’s hard not to ask whether this first royalty payment is anything other than theater, meant to assuage and allure voters now that CIRM is talking about another ballot measure for $5 billion more from the public purse.” Despite the meager results, Jensen clearly believes CIRM should get the money.
As Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Institute explains, “The infrastructure created by CIRM is the ground in which regenerative medicine will grow and blossom. The timing is difficult to predict, but the outcome is certain. California, thanks to CIRM, will be like Seattle was to Microsoft, like South San Francisco was to Genentech, like Cupertino was to Apple. We have sown the seeds, and now we need to nurture the growth of a new industry.”
From $3 billion in public funds this “new industry” returns $190,000 in 13 years. CIRM wants another $5 billion but Californians would be foolish to pony up another penny.